Aatma Nirbhar—How feasible is the idea?

Fatima Hasan

Amid the chaos and havoc caused by Corona virus, Aatma Nirbhar package announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the petty businesses is something pivotal and it has brought much relief to the workers. The scheme–Aatma Nirbhar  Bharat Abhiyan–  was announced as a part of PM’s economic stimulus package to keep the brunt of ongoing slowdown at bay on May 12 for a period of three months. It was later extended till the end of August. 

Aatma Nirbhar is envisaged as the scheme to check the economic slowdown caused by unpredictable pandemic COVID-19. The 5 pillars it envisages are economy, infrastructure, technology-driven system, vibrant demography and demand. But, at a time when the nation is going through tough times, how will the idea of Self-reliance work out? Let us just analyze how is this going to benefit the predominant Indian working population who highly rely on agriculture, allied occupations and petty business to earn their livelihood.

To facilitate the street vendors and hawkers to easily avail the credit for carrying out their regular selling activity regardless of what they earn daily, a bank credit of up to Rs 10,000 working capital is provided to each vendor. This is estimated to provide liquidity relief of Rs 2,500 crore to businesses and workers.

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As part of support to employees and workers under the PM Garib Kalyan Yojana, the government paid 12 percent of employer and 12 percent of employee contribution into the EPF accounts of eligible establishments for the months of March, April and May. This will be continued for three more months (June, July and August).

For the fishermen, the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) will be launched for integrated, sustainable and inclusive development of marine and inland fisheries. Under this scheme, Rs 11,000 crore will be spent on activities in Marine, Inland fisheries and Aquaculture and Rs 9,000 crore will be spent for developing infrastructure (such as fishing harbours, cold chain, markets etc).

This is a long-term vision scheme and the benefits it is likely to provide are based on infrastructural boost in the long run. However, it is to be noted that it does not provide immediate financial aid to the 1.5 crore fishermen in India. How will they sustain?

In a  slew of  support schemes for migrant workers,  the government announced ‘One-nation, one-ration card’ to enable the migrants to access the Public Distribution System (for Rations) from any Fair Price Shop in India and the scheme is estimated to cover 67 crore beneficiaries by August 2020.  The scheme will introduce the Inter-state portability of access to ration for migrant labourers. All the States and Union Territories are required to implement it by March 2021.

In the meantime, the Migrant workers who are not beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act ration card or State card will be provided 5 kg of grains per person and 1 kg of chana per family per month for two months. About eight crore migrants are estimated to benefit. However, there is no mention of NRI returnees from Gulf countries. What they should do to earn a living back home?  Where should they go for jobs?

Furthermore, the Government has also provided for residential accommodation for them through affordable rental housing complexes [ARHC] for both migrants and urban poor under the PM Awas Yojana.  This will be achieved by (i) converting government funded housing in the cities into ARHCs through PPPs, and (ii) Incentivising manufacturing units, industries, institutions, associations to develop ARHCs on their private land and operate them.  

Moreover, the Government has also brought some amendments and reforms to help the farmers in the present scenario. The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the Central and State governments to control the production, supply and distribution of certain commodities to avoid scarcity in the country.  

Commodities covered under the Act include edible oil and seeds, pulses, sugarcane and its products, and rice and paddy. The Act is amended to deregulate food items including cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potato.  This is expected to allow better price realisation for farmers by attracting investments and enabling competition in the sector.

Then, for agricultural marketing reforms, a central law will be formulated to provide: (i) adequate choices to farmers to sell their produce at remunerative prices, (ii) barrier free inter-state trade, and (iii) a framework for e-trading of agriculture produce.  

Currently, farmers are bound to sell their produce only to the licensees in the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs).  The proposed amendments seek to enable free flow of agricultural produce and establish a smooth supply chain providing options of better price realisation to farmers.

Furthermore, for ensuring agricultural produce pricing and quality assurances, a facilitative legal framework will be created to enable farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, large retailers and exporters in a fair and transparent manner.

Risk mitigation for farmers, assured returns, and quality standardisation will form an integral part of the framework. This is aimed at enabling farmers to predict the price of crops at the time of sowing and will also increase private sector investment in the sector. Also, this will in a way remove and eliminate the exploitation of farmers by middle men.

For immediate support, an additional fund of Rs 30,000 crore will be released as emergency working capital for the farmers. This fund will be disbursed through NABARD to Rural Cooperative Banks (RCBs) and Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) for meeting their crop loan requirements.  This fund is expected to benefit three crore small and marginal farmers.  This is in addition to the financial support of Rs 90,000 crore that will be provided by NABARD to RCBs and RRBs to meet the crop loan demand this year.

The specific agri infrastructure fund of one lakh crore rupees will be created for development of agriculture infrastructure projects at farm-gate and aggregation points (such as cooperative societies and Farmer Producer Organizations). Farm gate refers to the market where buyers can buy products directly from the farmers.

Farmers will be provided for institutional credit facilities at concessional rates through Kisan Credit Cards. This scheme will cover 2.5 crore farmers with concessional credit worth two lakh crore rupees.

With Aatma Nirbhar scheme, it is likely that the crisis triggered by COVID-19 and the economic slowdown that was already there in the country will be addressed. But as the prevailing situation in the country seems uncertain and the crisis is not likely to subside soon, there has to be extension of all the financial assistance schemes at least till December of this year.

And the Government should also cover the Gulf Returnees, the cobblers, the fishermen, poultry farmers etc. The Government should bear the total expenditure and not even leave partial outlay also on citizens as they cannot borrow from anyone while the government can raise funds from different sources.

Fatima Hasan is a Hyderabad based journalist

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